Mirroring: Unconscious Influence on Our Every Move?

Your friend is in tears over a recent breakup, so you too become sad in attempting to comfort her.  You’re going on a run around campus with a classmate, and you can’t help but fall in sync with each others’ steps.  You are in the library studying, but then you look up for a moment and see someone across the room check their phone, so you have the urge to pull your phone out and check it as well.

Image result for mrs incredible feeding jack jack

Mirroring: it happens in dozens of different ways to each of us every single day.  Most of the time, we fail to even notice it.  The people around us can be hugely influential over us in this respect, but why does mirroring occur in the first place?  Why don’t we catch ourselves doing it?  And why can an action so subconscious be so prevalent in our day-to-day life?

The scientific term for what we know as mirroring or mimicking is called embodied cognition.  Whether it be a facial expression, a gesture, or some other form of body language, the most simple reason that embodied cognition exists is because we, as humans, are empathetic beings.  We are far from being robotic, and we are able to experience hundreds of emotions.

We are also relational beings, by which I mean that in order for us to remain in a healthy social state, we have to be in contact with other people.  Studies have even shown that infants and young children who are not in contact with other people from the start can develop serious social problems as they continue to develop.  Think about it, whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, you need to interact with other people at some point during a day.  Otherwise, you are left feeling alone and potentially depressed.  We are empathetic, relational human beings.

So what role does embodied cognition, or mirroring play in our daily lives?  Why is it important?

Embodied cognition wouldn’t matter if it didn’t play such a huge role in our daily lives.  Mimicking is important because it demonstrates that we understand the people around us.  For example, repeating words back to somebody, helps you and the other person to come to a mutual understanding.  Embodied cognition is also a very important skill to us because it helps aid communication between people.  In a study I found, researchers tried to better understand what is called the mirror neuron system (or MNS) in children.  This system has been suggested to play a critical role in social cognition of children.  In this study, 16 children (between the ages of nine and ten) were neurologically scanned to discover this neural mechanism by which others’ intentions, emotions, and actions could be explained.

What was found, was that there did exist a strong neurological connection between empathy and activity in the mirror neuron system.  Despite the fact that the sample in this study was incredibly narrow and not very diverse, I think that it answers my own question.  This neurological link is critical to our very existence.  Without empathy, our daily activities would be limited, and vice versa.

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So is mirroring ultimately a good thing?  I would argue that it absolutely is.  Don’t be freaked out the next time someone yawns and you find yourself yawning as well, or if you realize that you’re making the same exact facial expression as the person that your’re talking to.  Rather, be encouraged– because you are obviously doing something right.  You are being empathetic and relational, or human for that matter.



Handel, S. (2013, February 17). The Unconscious Influence of Mirroring. Retrieved October 12,
2016, from http://www.theemotionmachine.com/the-unconscious-influence-of-mirroring/
Pfeifer, J. H. (2008, February 15). Mirroring others’ emotions relates to empathy and
interpersonal competence in children. NeuroImage, 39(4), 2076-85. Retrieved October 12, 2016,
from ScienceDirect.
Wilson, M. (2002, December). Six views of embodied cognition. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review,
9(4), 625-36. Retrieved October 12, 2016, from Springer Link.

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4 thoughts on “Mirroring: Unconscious Influence on Our Every Move?

  1. Luyi Yao

    I find a very interesting phenomenon that when I saw ” Don’t be freaked out the next time someone yawns and you find yourself yawning as well”, I just yawned unconsciously. I think it is good to see that mirroring affect us to do somethings. Also, MNS helps babies and children to take the first step to learn how to live in the world. And embodied cognition benefits people that we can communicate well. All of these, due to neuron system, make people closer.

  2. Christina Rae Locurto

    I never knew that mirroring somebody’s actions actually had a scientific name to it. When you think about it, it does make a lot of sense. Just like with yawning, we tend to mimic each other because we are human beings, not robots. We are alive and organic, and we naturally want to mimic each other. Just like the first example you provided, talking about the girl crying over a breakup, and her friend have an overwhelming feeling of sadness too. Strong emotions like that can have a huge affect on us, and in turn either improve or deflate our own emotions. It would be interesting to compare the brains of several different individuals, and examine who they interact with and how it affects their limbic system (the part of the brain that controls emotions). Would somebody who is constantly around sad people also be depressed? And would somebody who is always around happy and smiling people also be happy all the time? It’s very interesting to think about.

    I wonder if embodied cognition also has something to do with how people view a certain thing. For example, if one person says a movie is bad, will other people subconsciously also think that movie is bad too? From experience, when one person has a general opinion about something, and is actively vocal about it, that opinion tends to change the minds of others and force that person to also think that way as well. But that’s just my own personal anecdote. I’d be interested to research more experiments related to embodied cognition, and how it affects a person’s mindset/actions/beliefs.

  3. Jessy Severino

    So let me get this right because we are empathetic beings and are understanding what the other person is saying is the whole purpose of mirroring or embodied cognition. I didn’t know that yawing fell into this category but then again people say yawing is contagious but I see it isn’t that it is contagious it is simply mirroring. I’m wondering if mirroring also occurs if we’re looking at movie or something are we likely to mirror what we see on the screen?.

  4. Hannah Margaret Mears

    I find this concept very interesting because I find myself mirroring people as well. Often times when I see someone check their phone I do the same without even thinking twice. Also, when someone gets up to go to the bathroom during class, instantly you feel like you have to go to the bathroom as well. This post left me wondering though if this concept of mirroring is becoming extreme in our society to the point that we find ourselves wanting to actually be someone else. For example, everyone buys Kylie Jenner lip kits to have lips like Kylie when in reality the lips will not look like Kylie’s because she got botox. Another example is when we buy hair products like Head and Shoulders to get hair like Troy Polamalu. Clearly, we will not get hair like Troy, but its the satisfaction of doing something a celebrity is that makes us feel as if we are on their level. It would be interesting to see an observational study done on how people react to celebrities versus how people react to intellectuals in society. I found this article interesting because it talked about why we are so infatuated with celebrities, but not with intellectuals in this world like scientists. I guess pop culture is haunting us more than we think. Why is it that we have become so obsessed with doing things that others are doing? Do we unconsciously always want to be something that we are not? LINK

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